What the Hell Did I Just Read, by David Wong, aka, Jason Pargin is the third book in the ridiculous sci-fi, fantasy, horror, whatever novel series John Dies at the End. This series of books just happens to be among my favorites of all time, next to Wong’s other series Futuristic Violence.
It’s all purposeful, utter nonsense. Like, a little boy’s head turning into a dogs butt and saying crass things with its butthole mouth—that kind of nonsense. It’s magical. But, it’s hard to write a ‘review’ for such a book. Part of what makes it so much fun is how ridiculous it gets when you least expect it to. So, I’m not going to say much.
This third installment continues to follow John, the drugged out frat-boy-style-person who buys out an entire sex-store’s worth of rubber asses while on a cosmic drug-induced bender; David, the pessimistic voice-of-reason refusing to do battle with his clinical depression; And, Amy, David’s good natured, one-handed girlfriend acting as the trio’s only moral compass.
As in every installment, their town of Undisclosed is under attack from the inhabitants of some other-dimension, time place, lore, whatever. There’s vampires and werewolves and giant flying dragon mantis things in this universe, but only the mantis thing makes an appearance in this book. That’s about all I’m going to reveal about the story here. It really is one of those kinds of books you just need to read and get lost in. And yes, you’ll probably close the book at audibly recite the title: “What the hell did I just read?”.
Jason Pargin is a kind of anti-hero of modern philosophical thought and human empathy. Although his stories are always some kind of bizarre acid trip, the people, their motivations and their world are always grounded in an almost uncomfortable dedication to realism. Pargin is a veteran writer for the Cracked.com website, and a regular guest on the Cracked Podcast. In every place he speaks and writes, he brings a kind of sage wisdom; An even-handedness that is both compelling, and frustrating in how often he strikes the nail exactly on the head. He wrote one of the most compelling post-election article of 2016: How Half the Country Lost it’s F**king Mind. He brings this same kind of sentience to the characters in his book, and conditional sympathy to even the most obnoxious and reviled.
From Pargin’s perspective, almost no one really knows themselves, or really understands their own thoughts. Almost no one looks around with an accurate picture of reality. This is conveyed particularly well in the John Dies at the End series, where the titular character and his compadres almost never have any clue what’s really going on, but have to keep going anyway. The heroes of the John Dies series are always tasked with saving their town, or even the world, from some inter-dimensional hell-being, but they still have to get to work on time and pay the rent. In this latest installment, he visits this theme repeatedly, contrasting other hero-stories where the hero’s finances simply get taken care of somehow. His characters keep wondering who (or what) will pay them for saving everyone again.
One character, Marconi, seems to put a pointed end on the fantasy of the ‘professional hero’. Where John, Dave & Amy scrounge to make ends meet and do the lions share of the work, Marconi, who is a professional monster/ghost/demon hunter/whatever with a tv show and film crew and everything, gets most of the credit. This seems to be a kind of allusion to the political landscape where activists and nobodies do all the real work, and not entirely useless politicians swoop in and get all the credit. That’s my read on it anyway.
The John Dies at the End series, and What the Hell Did I Just Read, is an insightful, thought provoking, and super weird, book. It’s among the few fiction books that I have really enjoyed, and it’s a real page turner. The chapters are inconsistent in length, but only a few are longer than about 40 minutes, most clock in around 10-15 minutes if you’re a good reader. There’s a lot of crass humor, and mind bending dick jokes (yes, those are a thing).
If you’re a person who reads fiction, read this series of books.